WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday it has upgraded the protocol for the Palestinian mission in Washington in a symbolic show of confidence in president Mahmud Abbas.
President Barack Obama's administration will allow the mission to call itself the "General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization," a protocol level above its unofficial current status.
The step puts the United States, Israel's main ally, in accordance with the way European nations, Australia and Canada treat Palestinian missions, although the level is still short of being a full-fledged embassy.
"This decision reflects our confidence that through direct negotiations, we can help achieve a two-state solution with an independent and viable Palestine living side by side with Israel," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
"We should begin preparing for that outcome now, as we continue to work with the Palestinian people on behalf of a better future," he said.
The step will change little in practical terms. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the mission would be allowed to fly the Palestinian flag ceremonially, but its employees would not enjoy diplomatic immunity.
Crowley said that the administration approved the change after receiving a request from the Palestinians.
"These steps have symbolic value. They reflect improved relations between the United States and Palestinians, but they have no meaning under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," Crowley told reporters.
The United States does not recognize a Palestinian state but supports a resolution in which both Israel and Palestine would be independent states with defined borders.
The Obama administration has been upbeat about Abbas and has been trying to start direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Most predominantly Muslim nations, as well as China, India and Russia, recognize a state of Palestine and host full-fledged Palestinian embassies in their capitals.